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Category Archives: What God is Like

Today I watched as a mother run toward her child in the mall. The boy was middle-school aged. He was with a friend. They had shopping bags in their hands. And when the mother saw the boys she ran toward them. And what she did next gave me pause.

She screamed at them. There in the mall. I understand. She was concerned. Apparently she had become separated from the boys–or the boys had wandered off without telling her, or they didn’t meet up with her as they had planned. I tried not to eavesdrop in on what she was saying, but it was impossible to ignore. She was shouting at her son at full voice.

“How could you do this to me!? You are in big trouble. Don’t ever do that again. I have been so worried. Why did you do that?! I am so upset with you.”

And the boy stood there. Listening. Eyes down. Mumbling. And his friend looked like he wanted to just turn into the nearest store and slink away.

I get it. The mom was concerned that the boy was lost. She was worried for her son’s safety, perhaps justifiably so.

But I didn’t get the impression that the boy thought his mother was glad to see him. It sounded like the mother was more worked up about her own anguish rather than having any real gladness in finding the boy. I wondered if the next time the boy was “lost” from his mother’s presence whether he’d really want to be “found” by her.

How glad I am that the Father doesn’t respond to his lost children that way. Jesus tells a parable that helps me see that. It’s well-known. The parable of the prodigal son–which really is about a Father who finds a son that was lost. You may recall.

While the son is still a long way off, the father sees him. The father has been on the look out. The father knows what the son has done. The father knows the son has purposefully left. Yet the father is looking, waiting, watching. And the father sees the son. And the father runs to the son. And the father kisses the son. And the father hugs the son. And the father calls for a celebration. Because the father in the parable has real joy in finding the son of his who was lost. (You can–and should–read the whole parable. It’s found in Luke 15.)

The father in the parable has more joy over finding the lost son than anguish and sorrow over the absence of the son while he was lost. The delight overpowers the anguish.

And the Father above has real joy in embracing every child that has been lost and becomes found in Jesus. He is looking for us, for you. He is running after us, after you. He embraces and welcomes us with love. He rejoices over finding us.

If my image of God is like the mother in the mall, I may find myself keeping my distance when I find I have strayed. If my image of God is like the mother in the mall, if I don’t really know this God I will not likely want to be found by him.

But if my thought of God is shaped by the parable Jesus tells . . .

Well, let’s just say that being embraced in love that way is what it feels like to “come home.”

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It probably goes without saying that when God speaks, he means what he says. He doesn’t speak idle words. So when he described for Adam and Eve what he wanted for them and their descendants, he really was describing what he intended to have happen through them and through their lives. In those words, recorded for us in Genesis 1:28, we find a four-fold charge:

Be fruitful and multiply–increase in number

Fill the earth–spread out across the planet and inhabit it

Subdue it–exercise appropriate rule over the inhabited world

Rule over creatures–have mastery over all other living things

In previous posts, we have noticed how God repeatedly steps in to ensure what he wanted to happen would happen in spite of how people fell short of fulfilling his call. He ensures man’s rule over other living things. He undertakes the appropriate exercise of human authority over the inhabited world. And he makes sure that the earth becomes filled through the spreading out of people throughout the earth.

From Adam and Eve and the Fall through the fall of the Tower of Babel, we can watch God implementing his intentions for his plan for mankind to be carried out . . . whether people respond in full obedience or not. And then we get to God’s call to Abraham, we find another fascinating piece of the plan.

The initial call comes in Genesis 12.

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

Further details of this plan of God are reported a few chapters later.

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.” Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1-8)

What is so fascinating about this language is how it echoes God’s original instructions to Adam and Eve. Notice God’s part in all of this.

God is going to make Abraham exceedingly fruitful and will exceedingly multiply him. God is going to ensure he has descendants. God is going to make nations comes from Abraham to fill the earth. God is going to bless the world through Abraham.

God’s promises to Abraham are the final step in God’s active undertaken to ensure that his instructions to Adam and Eve will be carried out. And the rest of the Scriptures unfold how it is that God works out this plan to fill the planet with descendants of Adam and Eve and how, through one particular “seed” of Adam and Eve, one specific descendant of Abraham, God brings his intentions to fulfillment.

People will be fruitful and multiply. The earth will be filled. The inhabited world will be rightly subdued. And every living thing will be justly ruled. All through the descendants of Adam and Eve–enabled by one particular descendant, Jesus–just as God intended from the start.

We don’t get through half the first book of the Bible before we see God working in grace to bring about his intended ends for mankind. This is the God of grace. This is the God we meet in Jesus. This is the God who fills the Old Testament.

When God made Adam and Eve, he intended something. That is, in making mankind, he had something in mind. He wanted them to be involved in his plans and purposes on planet earth in a particular way. In his commission to them in Genesis 1:28, we hear a four-fold charge:

Be fruitful and multiply–increase in number

Fill the earth–spread out across the planet and inhabit it

Subdue it–exercise appropriate rule over the inhabited world

Rule over creatures–have mastery over all other living things

It doesn’t take Adam and Eve to drop the ball (to put it lightly!). A living creature enters the garden and they capitulate to that creature, the serpent. A few chapters later is becomes clear that the descendants of that first couple have failed to carry out another of God’s charges–they are not effectively subduing the inhabited world.

In each of these moments in time, as we watch the story unfold, God steps in to pick up the slack, to carry the responsibility for the carrying out of his initial commands. In grace he helps the people he has created to rule over creatures and then steps in to ensure that the earth is more properly subdued. (See the two previous posts on “What God Intended.”)

The next turn in the story (after the events surrounding Noah’s day) comes in Genesis 11. Apparently the children of Adam and Eve are taking to heart (to some degree) the first part of God’s original instructions, but they are not giving heed to the second part.

[All the people] said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4)

What are the people saying? “We don’t want to ‘fill the earth!’ We aren’t going to spread out to populate the whole earth. We’re going to stay right here.”

That’s not what God intended. That is not what he told them to do. He made it clear to Adam and Eve and then to Noah and his descendants that they were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28; 9:1).

What is God’s response to the people’s unwillingness to give themselves to fulfilling God’s call? He steps in to make sure that what he intends to have happen happens.

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 9:5-8)

God takes responsibility for the filling of the whole earth. They wouldn’t do it, so he makes sure it will happen. God will have what he intended. God will ensure that what he calls for will happen. God is doing this because his original intention was and is good.

It is true that we can read the account of the tower of Babel as a sign of God’s judgment against the wrongful desires of the people. But we can also see the grace of God evident in his willingness to ensure what he wants for people will be carried out . . . by his own doing.

If you know even a little about how the story of the Bible unfolds, then you know that it doesn’t take many chapters of Genesis to get from Adam and Eve and the fall to the trouble in Noah’s day. By chapter six, things are going poorly; Noah is given a specific building project in chapter seven; the great flood comes in chapter eight.

What is particularly intriguing is the instructions that God gives to Noah and his descendants after the flood.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. . . . Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made man. As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:1-7)

God is re-issuing the instructions he had given to Adam and Eve. But, surprisingly, of the four provisions of that original set of instructions, only two are mentioned.

Noah and his descendants are told to be fruitful and multiply and also to fill the earth; those were the first two parts of the instructions given to Adam and Eve. But what of the other two parts? What about the call to subdue the inhabited planet and to rule over every living thing?

We saw that when Adam and Eve failed to fully rule over every living thing (in particular, the serpent), God stepped in, in grace, to take responsibility for their failure to rule the serpent. God is apparently stepping in again to cover, in grace, mankind’s failure to fulfill what he intended for them. God says that he will be the one who will require man’s blood for capital offenses. God will undertake to provide for the subduing of life on the planet.

Adam and Eve and their descendants were supposed to subdue the inhabited world. They were supposed to keep things “under control.” Mankind’s wickedness had gotten out of hand; their wickedness was “great on the earth” (Genesis 6:5). Apparently, the descendants of Adam and Eve were not subduing life on planet earth very well at all.

So, God brings the flood. And in setting things up after the flood, God does not re-issue the instruction to Noah and his descendants to “subdue the earth.” God has stepped into to take responsibility for that part–the part that people failed to carry out well.

Once again, early in Genesis, we see a marvelous picture of grace. God has intentions for his people. They fail to carry out his intentions for them. So God himself steps in to ensure what he wants for them and what he desires through them will come to pass.

It’s not uncommon to hear people speak about “the God of the Old Testament” in contrast to “the God we meet in Jesus.” There seems to be a wide-spread sense that there is something different about how God presents himself in the first part of the Bible versus how we see him in Jesus.

Obviously, there is a change in “covenant.” Even a cursory reading of the New Testament makes it evident that something changed from life “under the Law” and the way we experience life with God after the death and resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit. But the perception of a “different God” might be due, not to a change in God, but to our misreading the story presented us in the Bible.

If we go all the way back to Genesis and begin reading the account attentively, it’s surprising what we can discover about what God intended all along and what he was like all along.

We get God’s original “instructions” to mankind in Genesis 1:28:

God blessed [Adam and Eve]; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Apparently, God intended Adam and Eve (and their descendants) to do these things. Although precisely how they would accomplish these ends was left unspecified, what he wanted for them was clear. They are to:

Be fruitful and multiply–increase in number

Fill the earth–spread out across the planet and inhabit it

Subdue it–exercise appropriate rule over the inhabited world

Rule over creatures–have mastery over all other living things

So, how did they do? What we see is that within a very short while, they end up stumbling over the fourth part of this set of instructions–they do not rule over all other creatures.

In Genesis 3, we are introduced to “the serpent” and are told that he was one of the “beasts of the field”–the same term used to refer to “every living thing” that was to be ruled by Adam and Eve. They are to master, rule over, even this serpent. But, clearly, they do not.

Adam and Eve give in to the craftiness of the serpent and the resulting “fall” has cataclysmic impact. This living thing got the upper hand with Adam and Eve, contrary to what God intended for them. But notice what God does.

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise [literally, “crush”] you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (3:14-15)

What is happening here? Let me suggest that God, in grace, is “taking up the slack.”

Adam and Eve failed to fully carry out God’s intentions for them. They did not truly rule over every living thing; the serpent got the upper hand. But only for a moment. Now God steps in and ensures that what he wanted for Adam and Eve will be carried out. God makes it so that “enemy-ship” exists between the serpent and his seed and mankind. This sets the stage for the necessary “rule over” condition. God then ensures that whatever impact the serpent and his descendants may have on mankind (a heel injury), “the seed of woman” will overcome, providing a fatal wound to the serpent and his kind.

God ensures that his initial intent that Adam and Eve and their descendants rule over every living thing will be carried out.

This is God stepping in to ensure that what he wants for mankind will be realized–in spite of Adam’s and Eve’s failure and sin. This is grace! And it’s there in Genesis 3.

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